Monday, October 14, 2019

Hike Notes: Wallace Falls

Went hiking a week or two ago with team from work at Wallace Falls, up to the Skyhomish Valley Overlook.  Two or three interesting observations.  Not much in the way of wildlife, just people and their dogs.  Clear day, cold in the morning but it warmed up, as one might expect.

First, even though we had looked at the posted maps and had plenty of cell coverage, we ended up taking a little detour out to about the DNR road I think?  The social dynamic, in particular, was that management thought they knew where we were going and junior engineers were correctly skeptical but didn't speak up loudly enough.  So this poses a pretty funny potential explanation for getting lost with increased party size, and a reason that navigation shouldn't necessarily just scale with the number of characters with Navigation proficiency - it's a "never bring two clocks to sea" sort of situation, if one navigator gets it right and the other gets it wrong.

So this is why I'm not really sure how far we went, or how much total elevation change we did.  Our highest point was about 500 feet above our starting point.  It took us around three hours, which would make sense for about four miles each way plus elevation.  But...  even looking at a map now I'm not sure how that could've happened.  Backtracking off a wrong turn is doubly expensive I guess.

In any case, getting lost is definitely a topic which I should think more about, for developing a gameplay loop for wilderness adventures.

Second, I pulled something in my knee (IT band I think) about a quarter of the way in, and boy howdy the rest of the hike was fun.  Didn't do anything particularly stupid, just walking and gradually ow.  The wilderness damage is real.

Finally, splendid visibility, leading to some observations for the "describing the wilderness" problem.  More than I expected!  Although I suppose 500' is a fair bit of climbing to do just for a view; might be some interesting choices and tradeoffs during wilderness adventuring, spending time climbing stuff to see more hexes away.

To the south, a dirt road on the hills on the other side of the river, about 10 miles away and I reckon 12-15 feet wide, was clearly visible to the naked eye as a result of contrast, yellow dirt among green trees.  I hadn't considered the visibility of preindustrial roadways in adjacent hexes before.  A sandy island in the river, a quarter mile wide, was easily visible at a similar distance, again by contrast.

Turning further west, the Olympic mountains, about 70 miles away over the Sound, were likewise visible.  The gap between the last line of near hills and the mountains is very hazy, almost a white line; I'm not sure if this is due to humidity off the water, or something with the horizon.  If it is a water humidity effect, it might be useful for signaling to players an intervening, distant large body of water.  If it's a horizon effect, then it might be useful for signaling that the mountains they're seeing are further than the calculated horizon (about 45 miles, at the elevation we were at).  The edge of the Sound was about 45 miles away, so hard to call either way.

And then to the east and north, the view was pretty well blocked by the mountain we were on.

This whole post-hike process that I do, where I go correlate stuff I saw to things on google maps and try to figure out where it was and how to get there, seems like a much looser version of the exploration loop that you'd get in the wilderness with a paper (er, vellum?) map in hand.

Finally finally, for all that "door or cave hidden behind a waterfall" is a bit of a trope at this point, it seems like that would actually be rather dangerous, given that the pool into which the water falls tends to get deep and be churned up.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A/X: Wilderness Level

Koewn's mention in last post's comments of OSR spell-point systems that give more recharge in the wilderness, because it's a more fantastical place than civilization, got me thinking.  I agree with the general premise, that wilderness ought to be fantastical, and civilization ought not to be very fantastical (if nothing else, this helps keep the economics grounded).  But giving more recharge in the wilderness than in civilization would throw the wilderness resource game very far from the B/X roots, which I think are mostly solid but need some elaboration.

Concurrently, thinking about wilderness as dungeon - we have dungeon levels, as a measure of both distance from the surface and of danger, but the danger of wilderness regions is not handled so clearly.  In ACKS we have both the wilderness/borderlands/civilized distinction, and then terrain type also heavily influences number of lairs and encounter chance, and some terrain types are arguably more dangerous in practice due to differences in their random encounter tables.

So I'm thinking maybe we impose Wilderness Level, as a measure of danger, supernatural power, and expected treasure, in regions.  Reorganize the wilderness encounter tables so that more dangerous creatures appear at higher numbers, and then switch from d12 to d6 + wilderness level.  Maybe apply it as a modifier to encounter chance and number of lairs too (instead of having that be by terrain).  So untamed plains are about as dangerous as untamed mountains, in terms of their inhabitants.  And then you can have Tamed Mountains that are reasonably safe without having to recall the implicit rule in ACKS that causes encounter roll frequency to vary with civilizedness.  Just make it explicit and simple by analogy with dungeon level.

Then, to link it to civilization, spellcasting resource management, and base construction, building and maintaining temples, wizard's towers, etc reduces wilderness level in the surrounding area (possibly at wilderness "room" or biome scale?  Or temple per room plus shrine per hex?).  These work by siphoning magic from the wilderness, which is inherently chaotic and dangerous, and laundering it through deities, rituals, etc, into a form which is not fundamentally inimical to human life, which can be safely used and controlled by spellcasters.  Imposing a schema (mathematical or extraplanar for arcane or personified deity for divine) on the raw, schema-less magic of the wilderness limits what you can do with the magic, but it also limits what the magic can do to you.  Human magic is legible; wild magic isn't.  So regions of civilization are safe, sane, and stable because existing temples and guilds spend a lot of time and cash operating "heat sinks", and the total throughput of these heat sinks limits the total number / power of wizards and clerics available to civilization.

A couple of interesting things fall out of this:

This helps explain why barbarian/beastman hordes pillage temples; this returns the land to wilderness, by eliminating their protective influence.  Also justifies centrality and necessity of religion in daily life.

Likewise, a temple which "appeases" a volcano operates by drawing off the wild magic which might cause eruption, spontaneous generation of fire elementals, etc.

If you're out in the wilderness and you're tapped out but you need one more fireball, go ahead, tap into the raw wilderness magic.  What could possibly go wrong?  Lycanthropy?  Animal body parts?  Extra head?

Elves - native to wilderness level 1 rather than wilderness level 0 like humans and hobbits (I dunno about dwarves yet).  Better at wild magic use?  Spellsinging from Heroic Fantasy is very much on theme; if wizard magic is like baroque and cleric magic is like gregorian chant, the elf is improvising jazz.

It's normally weird that lower HD beastmen have better witchdoctors and shamans (eg goblins get d6/d8 level spellcasters, but ogres only get like d4 level spellcasters).  But if ogres are the product of a wilder and less schematic environment, then it makes sense that they don't really do spells (and instead rely on ambient raw magic to maintain 4HD) whereas weaker beastmen, more common right on the edge of human civilization, are exposed to more schematism and might have deities but less embodied magic to draw on.

I could see something like Vinge's zones of thought as a useful analogy- at low wilderness levels, your horse is animal sentience.  With prolonged exposure to high wilderness levels, your horse becomes a fairy tale horse and might start talking.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

A/X: Halls: Refuges in Civilization

I already needed rules for building up refuges in the wilderness, and I was thinking about facilities for increasing spell point recovery rate in civilization, and now I'm thinking about base building where-ever.

Reasons to encourage and codify "base-building in civilization" in the mid-levels:

  • My players generally buy a townhouse anyway and then complain about lack of base-building, so I think if there were reasons to build more stuff they would happily do so.
  • Generalize to cover wilderness basebuilding / refuge-upgrading with the same rules, at a distance-and-danger cost multiplier.
  • Base facilities could help ease the pain of small markets.
  • Maintenance cost for your base would be a nice way to streamline / centralize cost of living expenses.
  • A collective party possession encourages unity and the party as the unit of continuity.
  • Provide absolute clarity on what it means to get the treasure "home" for XP purposes, especially in points-of-light settings where there isn't a big "civilization" zone just off the hex-map.

So here's how I see this going down in practice.

Find a town you like.  Go meet with the local lord and petition for the right of hearth and charter.  He's going to ask you to do him a favor.  It's going to be a messy, adventurous favor.  If you have powerful enemies in town (from, say, a night of drunken mayhem fighting temple eunuchs - purely hypothetically, of course), he's going to ask you for an additional favor per powerful enemy.  If you have a powerful ally in town, maybe he asks you for one less favor.

So you deal with his ankheg problem and come back, and swear a little oath to help defend the town from threats monstrous and domestic, and he authorizes your charter as a Legitimate Fraternal Order (like the Elks or the Masons - make sure to choose a name), granting you the right to build or purchase a hall within his domain.  You go find some crappy land on the outskirts of town and hire some laborers to clear it and build a longhouse.  Congratulations, you are no longer murderhobos (just murder-...citizens).  Everyone now knows where to find you - traveling merchants, barbarians for hire, messengers bearing quests, peasants looking for help with their wyvern problems, your wizard's roommate from college, your wizard's ex from college, knights errant looking for someone to fight, beggars, preachers, used magic item salesmen, performing acrobats seeking a venue, the thieves' guild seeking to acquire something while disguised as acrobats, the thieves' guild looking to move some hot goods, the watch looking for some hot goods, the tax collector, the assassin's guild, meddling archmages, elder dragons...  I think I feel a random table coming on.

It comes with enough space, kitchen, and larder enough to feed and sleep n people.  This is the maximum number of PCs, henchmen, hirelings, and retainers you can support in "clean, sanitary conditions" suitable for healing and the avoidance of loyalty penalties.  Upgrade for more capacity.  If you have excess capacity, townsfolk come drink and gamble with you and some of them might be recruitable as henchmen.  Some of them might also be spies for the other Rival Adventurous Orders with halls in town.
Also comes with some capacity for horses and dogs; again, if you want more (or cavalry retinue), kennel and stable upgrades.

Other stuff to put in or around your hall (eventually compound):

  • Library and laboratory for magic research.  Capture a spellbook from an NPC with new spells in it?  Goes in the party library, becomes guild secrets.
  • Chapel, sanctum, meditorium, summoning chamber, etc for spell point recovery.
  • Treasury / vault / reliquary.  Stop paying those bankers negative interest to store your gold, and store it yourself.
  • Monster heads on the walls / trophy room.  Bonus to reaction rolls on your own turf.
    • Maybe a more general "prestige / grandeur" mechanic?  Helps negate the hiring penalty for slander?
  • Armory.  Keep your magic swords organized, and stockpile plate mail when it's available in your lousy market.
  • Cemetery / catacombs.  Inter your dead henchmen properly to prevent them from rising as the undead for vengeance, and to keep high-level wizards from using their skulls as crafting components (keep the skulls for yourself).  Spend money on elaborate funerals for your PCs for more efficient reserve XP generation (per Heroic Fantasy Handbook).  Ghosts give you quests.
  • Shrine to your dead fighter, Bob.  Subsequently play a cleric of Bob.  Bob becomes the Party Deity.  Praise be unto Bob.
  • Smoke-filled back rooms in which to plan hijinks and dungeon-crawls, away from the prying ears of Rival Adventurous Orders and The Law.
  • Pit where potential henchmen can fight each other so you can learn their stats.  Or for gambling.  Or both.
  • Warehouse space to store your trade goods, both stolen and legitimate.
  • Wagon yard for assembling your caravan(s), might be visited by traveling merchants or halflings if space available
  • Garden
    • Medicinal
    • Poison
    • Psychoactive - regain spell points in the field, but save vs datura
    • Ornamental, +prestige
    • Go on, plant that magic seed you found
  • Infirmary with physician hirelings to cure your lycanthropy and succubus-herpes without it becoming public knowledge.  And more natural healing, I guess.
  • Forge with smith hirelings to make more plate for your henchmans.  Or masterwork weapons, if those rules are in use.
  • Still for Dwarven Brewing.
  • Gem-cuttery for lapidary hirelings to improve found uncut gems (hat tip to Courtney's Downtime and Demesnes, the draft of which I should probably finish reading before attempting to roll my own thing here)
  • Parade / training yard to upgrade your mercs.
  • Siege workshop / testing range...  I feel like this might be pushing the edge of the Charter, though, and start generating Concern from your local lord.
  • Dock / shipyard, if coastal or riverine.
  • Menagerie of exotic beasts
    • (Prestige again, but a small chance of escape...)
  • Barn and pasture of not-so-exotic beasts for use in trapfinding, hecatombs, and rations-on-the-hoof
  • Dungeon / prison for beastman prisoners and hostages
  • Walls, towers, etc...  but again, local lord will push back on too much of this.

All of this has been done before, in for example the 3.x Stronghold Builder's Guide.  All this is aso easy enough to work out under ACKS' rules as they exist.  It's just in a very low-abstraction state at the moment, much like Domains at War.  You're hiring individual mercenaries and buying individual windows for your hall.  This is an easy enough problem to solve.

Bonus: use the same facilities rules for NPC organizations like wizards' cabals, temples, and thieves' guilds.  Membership in a guild at low levels provides access to libraries, laboratories, and restoration facilities in exchange for dues and labor during downtimes.  These organizations are chartered differently and don't compete with adventuring organizations, but have monopoly on sale of eg magic in town (nudging players towards adventuring rather than sitting in town selling spells).

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A/X: Fibonacci Spell Points

I've been thinking about spell points for A/X.  Originally I was thinking of rolling the resource model for spells all the way back to "spells are per adventure", but 1) this is a somewhat dissociated resource model which would require in-world explanation and induces weird edge cases around "well what's an adventure", and 2) I'm thinking that if HP and mercenaries can be recovered (slowly) in the wilderness in refuges, perhaps it makes sense for magic to also be recoverable in the wilderness (slowly).  But spell slots of particular levels are very quantized; doing slow recovery without breaking them up sounds like it would end up being complicated.

At 1d3 HP per day of bed rest in reasonably sanitary conditions, an average first-level fighter can recover full HP in about two days.  So putting magic at parity, it would make sense for the average first-level mage to be able to recover a first level spell about every two days.  This means first level spells need to cost more than one spell point - two seems workable.

This got me thinking also - most spell point systems make 2nd level spells cost 3, 3rd level spells cost 3, 4th 7, 5th 9.  This is pretty close to reasonable except at the very low end.  Is web really worth three castings of sleep?  Is fireball worth five castings of sleep?  I tend to think not really, with OSR sleep - a fireball wins a wilderness encounter with a band of beastmen by cooking their chieftain, two or three sleeps win an encounter with beastmen by knocking our the chieftain and a couple of gangs.  The main thing these higher-level spells have going for them is action economy.  So thinking about these factors, 1st level spells costing 2 points and the relationship in power between spells of various levels, I ended up at the Fibonacci sequence.

Spell level: spell points
1: 2
2: 3
3: 5
4: 8
5: 13
6: 21

A fireball once every five days is also pretty close to the recovery time for a badly-injured retinue unit (or for the beastmen you fireballed last week to recover from their burns), which suggests that it's about right for recovery of wilderness-level abilities.

Further considerations:

If NPCs follow the same rules, what does this do to the economics of hired spellcasters?

What does this do to the availability of Restore Life and Limb?

Can you recover spell points faster while resting in civilization, where you have all your incense and pentagrams in order beforehand?  Can you apply these same sort of things (building sanctuaries, consecrating altars) to improve refuges and boost spell point recovery there?

What of the Contemplation proficiency?

Mercenaries only recover partway (the dead don't rise, but the injured heal) - should there be some analog to that?

Maintaining indefinite-duration spells like continual light and wizard lock - reduce your max spell points?

Places of Power seem like a much more natural fit for spell point systems than for vancian casting - reservoirs of spell points that can be drained but recover slowly.

Are there known pitfalls to spell-point systems that I should be wary of?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hike Notes: Mount Fuji, Part 2: Gaming Reflections

Last post, I talked about climbing Mount Fuji.  Today, applying that experience to OSR D&D.

Time and distance: In nine hours, we covered a total of six miles of trail (plus ~8600 feet of total elevation delta).  We were barely encumbered, pessimistically two stone.  ACKS' rules would put us at 120' exploration movement speed, or 24 miles per day, times 1/2 for mountains.  So the rules would overestimate our speed by a factor of two, about.  It's possible that we're just that out of shape (though I suspect we're in as good a shape as your average L0 henchman; by 3rd Edition's strength standards, my mediocre deadlifts put me at about Str 9).  Certainly naive application of Naismith's rule would argue that we should've taken closer to six hours (but there are a bunch of proposed corrections to Naismith's rule for a reason; notably, we were on roughly 15 degree slopes, which some of the corrections penalize further).  It's also possible that the rules are for overland travel, rather than summiting a mountain, and that if we were just trying to cross a mountain hex to get to the other side, we'd've done a lot less climbing, and consequently our speed would've been a lot higher.  This introduces some weird questions about moving around within hexes versus entering and leaving hexes.  If I'm already thinking about hexes as being like 10' squares, and groups of hexes as being like rooms, that probably isn't something I want to worry about (and instead I might just increase the penalty on mountain movement).  But if you're like the typical hard-simulationist ACKS hexcrawl DM, maybe that is something you do want to think about, especially if interesting things tend to be located at the summits of mountains (and of course they do).

One thought I had, reflecting on our covering four miles of distance in a full day, was having irregularly-sized hexes instead of changing multipliers, making the hex a unit of time rather than a unit of distance.  So a mountain hex is actually smaller than a plains hex in space, but both take a day to cross.  The problem is tessellation; maybe irregular, Voronoi-style maps would support this better (I guess there might also be problems in economics, if you care about population density per hex for taxation purposes).  Or maybe, like Arneson, who also did "one day, one hex", you just don't worry about it.

Encounter Distance: I think the 2d6x10 yards encounter distance for Badlands would've been more appropriate than the 4d6x10 yards typical for mountains, given the mists and the steepness and general difficulty of seeing even building-sized objects at 200-300 meters.  Having weather be a bigger determiner of encounter distance than terrain would be interesting, especially if you have typical / unusual weather for certain hexes or "rooms".

Foraging: There wasn't anything even plausibly worth eating above 2500m of altitude, except for one bird.  Foraging penalty in high mountain hexes seems appropriate.  The yamabushi allegedly developed systems of diet and cuisine for high mountains, as did the Taoists in China, but...  I'm betting they foraged a little further down.

Hypoxia: -1 to surprise (loss of color vision, difficulty paying attention), initiative, attack and damage throws, proficiency rolls...  morale?  spell failure?  Some people get incoherent and start repeating themselves, that could be bad if you say Hastur one extra time...  And sure, you can get acclimated, but it takes a week or two.  That would actually be kind of a neat mechanic, if I'm treating the day as the unit of wilderness time, that you can get acclimated within the timespan of a single adventure (and then get de-acclimated when you go back down to civilization for a month).  And then if you have a mechanical reason to linger partway up the mountain for a week, you're really going to want to find or build a refuge there...

Combat: Seems like it would be really difficult for anyone coming up to fight someone higher up, especially with premodern weapons.  At the very least there's an ample supply of rocks to drop or roll down on people, and the height advantage in melee on a 1:4 slope also means that if you're five feet away, you're at a foot and a quarter of elevation difference, which might mean that you can hit them in the head really easily but also means that you're going to have to defend your legs differently or have them cut from under you.  Melee generally would be made difficult by the bad footing (gravel, irregularly-shaped rocks).  Charging uphill seems impossible, and charging downhill seems foolhardy.  Single-file-width trails limit the number of fighters who could be concurrently engaged without risking slipping and rolling down the mountain.  Firing arrows up, you end up converting some of that kinetic energy into potential energy, much like firing up at the defenders on walls during sieges; the -4 "volley overhead" penalty seems like too much, but -2 might be right (this is also interesting more generally for firing ranged weapons at flying opponents with an altitude advantage).  I could also see fireball and other big magic setting off rockslides.

Mounts: I'm not sure how viable riding a horse up would be.  I didn't see any evidence of horses being used on Fujinomiya (though apparently they are used on the shallower-and-less-rocky Yoshida trail), and for the Himalayas local human porters seem to be preferred.  If horses are supposed to be one of those pieces of kit that really changes the wilderness exploration game by increasing the speed of small, elite adventurer groups relative to mobs of infantry like most beastmen, I'm not sure what the implications of this are.

Wilderness Damage: This is something Tao of D&D was kicking around a few years back, and I think that it's a solid model of the realities.  If hit points are an abstraction for your luck and vigor and ability to turn dangerous situations into no serious bodily harm, that's exactly what gets ground down by exposure and hunger and being altitude drunk, and then when you hit zero from these 1-2 points of chip damage you roll a (probably) not-very-serious wound from the Death and Dismemberment table, like falling over and knocking your teeth out on a rock in the trail or losing a couple fingers to frostbite.  Doing something like this opens up some interesting design space.  Weather obviously plays a part in determining how fatigued you get.  You could even make the wilderness damage roll determine the weather - if you're in mountains in winter, the daily wilderness damage roll is 1d4 or something.  4 means it's a blizzard today, 1 means it's just cold.  In the summer, it's 1d4-2 instead, maybe, so most days just being in the mountains is OK but sometimes you get rained on and you get cold.  Forced march and night march (I recall from von Schnell's book an aside about making a night march and it being very lucky that they didn't lose anyone) give you a choice not just about rest, but about damage.  Abilities like Endurance and Survival might reduce the amount of wilderness damage that you take by 1 per die, as might equipment, and being in a sanctuary reduces it a lot (say 3 points, in our mountain blizzard example - it's still going to be cold, you're still going to want a fur cloak, but you can get by if you stay inside).  There are a couple of annoyances here, of course - building coherent systems is hard, hit points in OSR games are very low-resolution, I don't want to track HP for a bunch of mercenaries, and handling a die roll for damage every day (er, wilderness turn) sounds like a hassle (especially when you start considering crossing multiple hexes per day and changing terrain types and whether marching inflicts damage, which it seems like it should, you're less likely to twist an ankle if you're sitting around all day).

Equipment Loss: My father almost broke his glasses.  I destroyed the heel of my boot.  A couple of times we got our poles stuck in rocks and could've broken them if we were clumsier.  Obviously these are recoverable once you get back to civilization, but out there these could be quite bad.  I feel like destruction of mundane equipment is a totally reasonable effect for a wilderness trap or mishap, and one which (particularly if aimed at rations or water) might really be felt.  Some items of equipment, like optics, might be fragile by nature and "first to fall" to such mishaps.  This might also be true of horses, which are notoriously fragile among work-beasts and easy to lame.

The Weight of Wealth: A 100-yen coin is five grams, about an inch across with a little hole in the center, and made of something probably less dense than gold (copper, the primary component, is about half as dense as gold, it turns out).  But 1000 5g coins is 5kg, which is a bit shy of the British definition of stone but pretty close.  So if you're running ACKS and coins are 1000 to the stone, gold pieces are probably about half an inch in diameter, maybe 3/4 of an inch with a hole in the middle.

Pilgrimage: An obvious use for mountains, and one used by both Morrowind (pilgrimage up Mount Kand) and Skyrim (to High Hrothgar).  Turns out Fuji used to have quite a widespread cult in Japan, with over 1300 shrines built out of rocks from the mountain.  Next time you want to make religion in your campaign less boring, consider the Good News of Volcano-Gods.

Volcanic Craters: They're big!  And totally hidden from view until you reach the summit (unless, like St. Helens, the whole side of the crater blew out during an eruption).  I think Fuji's was about a quarter mile across.  You could hide a lot of stuff in there - goatman village, volcano cult temple, tarrasque...

Torii Gates: They mark the boundary of sacred ground.  You're supposed to take off your hat and bow when you pass through them.  It would be interesting to use a similar mechanism to provide information to players, of symbolic gates to mark the boundaries of civilization and peace (separating the temple at the summit of the volcano from the mountain wilderness, say) or to invert them and have them mark the boundaries of the otherworld, the supernatural wilderness, where spirits and demons are active.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hike Notes: Mount Fuji, Part 1: Climb Report

This post: long-form report of observations.
Next post: D&D-relevant distillation.

About a week ago, my father and I summited Mount Fuji via the Fujinomiya Trail.  The distance as the crow flies from our starting point to the summit was about 2 miles and 4330 feet of elevation gain, but with switchbacks the length of the trail was around 3 miles.  The climb up took us about five hours, we spent half an hour or so at the summit, and then the descent took us three and a half hours.

We were only lightly encumbered, with a single pack between us, which we took turns carrying.  The pack was 3lb empty, and contained three liters of water (~6lb), rain gear and layers, snacks (I estimate around 2lb), about 20 100-yen coins for toilet fees (5 grams each, so 100 grams, or a quarter pound of currency), cell phones, and a few contingency items like flashlights.  I think in total it was probably around 20 lbs.  It definitely made itself felt; the pack carrier had to maintain a slower pace on both ascent and descent.  The one time I fell over, on the descent, was while carrying the pack (fortunately I fell backwards and it cushioned my fall).  Some climbers brought helmets - initially we thought for falling rocks (which were a risk, as regularly noted by signs), but now I think for falling over too.

Despite a few wipeouts and near-wipeouts, we were fortunate to avoid any serious injuries or destruction of equipment.  Some old injuries that we thought healed (damaged hip adductor attachment point, injured knee) started hurting on the way up and continued on the way down, but they didn't increase in severity.  Had a couple hot spots on my feet that were on the way to blistering, but nipped in the bud by tightening the laces of my boots.  My father did drop his glasses at one point and was concerned that they would be damaged but they were fine.  Towards the very end of the descent, I caught the heel of my boot and started tearing the sole off, but it was still usable and we made it down.

We were also lucky with the weather.  Forecast showed a 50% chance of a thunderstorm, but it only drizzled a little.  There wasn't that much direct sun either (a little on the way down); instead there was a lot of mist and low clouds, which wafted up the mountain.  Supposedly when it rains, it often rains upwards in a similar way, making ponchos insufficient rain gear.  If we had gotten soaked, there would've been a small risk of hypothermia, as temperatures at the summit were in the 40s, even at midafternoon in early August.  There was still some ice in ravines and runnels that don't get direct sunlight, but for the most part we were comfortably warm in technical fabrics, plus lightweight jackets near the top.

The view down - mists blowing up the slope, bit of "moon rock" on the right
We purchased a small (~300 mL) canister of oxygen at the Sixth Station, and carried it up with us.  It was really only enough for five or six deep breaths (which is the best way to use it - take a deep breath from it, hold it for a bit, and then exhale).  I'm not sure we really needed it; I didn't use it, and we had some extra to share with another family of Americans on the way down.  I did notice some dizziness, some clumsiness, a little tinnitus, and a headache which got worse as we went on.  It was a bit like being drunk, but I am a reasonably happy drunk so it was alright once I got used to it and determined that I wasn't going to start vomiting immediately.  I did feel pretty bad around the Old 7th Station but it turned out I was mostly hungry.  Colors also faded a bit, but it was a gradual enough process that it wasn't very noticeable to my father until he tried the oxygen.  Part of the reason that we did not do the overnight hike (climb most of the way up, sleep in huts on the mountain, summit before dawn, watch the sunrise, descend) was that altitude sickness seems to sneak up on many people during the night, so by doing it in a single day we narrowed our window at risk.

In terms of terrain, the lower elevations had small plant-life growing off the trail and a little inside the trail, and the surface tended more towards dirt and gravel with some hand-sized rocks mixed in (just enough to roll an ankle on, or to hit your head on if you fell).  This makes sense, since dirt is a fluid and will gradually flow down hill (particularly when driven by the boots of tens of thousands of climbers per year).  Above that, it turned into bigger rocks, head-sized to torso-sized, with intermittent "moon rock" - big solid pieces of porous igneous rock in irregular shapes, speculatively hardened frothy lava from a previous eruption.  It often jutted out in concave formations, like whatever surface had been beneath it had eroded out from under it.  Towards the top the fraction of "moon rock" increased, and there were also rocks with yellow and green colors, perhaps indicative of sulfur.  The "moon rock" was hard going, especially on the way down, where its steep drops and concavities made finding places to step tricky without looking out over its edges.  We had collapsible hiking poles with tungsten carbide tips and these were a great help.  Many climbers had octagonal wooden poles, which could be branded for a small fee at the various stations, and so were both practical implements and souvenirs, but the tungsten bit better than I imagine the unshod wood would've (and they folded down to fit in a checked bag better, too).

The views were mostly down into mists, with occasional glimpses of the secondary peak of Mount Hoei, or the forests at the foot of the mountain.  Often we could not see either the station above us or the station below us, between the mist and the irregularities of the slope, even though we were probably only a couple of hundred meters from them in Euclidean distance.  The views across the side of the mountain were sometimes quite good, with ridges and overhangs and a rock formation that looked almost like a whale.  It was hard to see much of anything looking up, between mists and neck-angle and switchbacks.  Several time we thought we saw the summit and turned out to be mistaken.  It was steep; with 4300 feet of climb over a three mile trail, it's about 1:4, 25% average grade, or a 15 degree average slope, and that was up the switchbacks, rather than directly up the mountain.  Some of the views were rather precipitous; one of the stations had a metal grating out over the slope, and when we arrived on the way up, I wanted nothing to do with it.  Coming back down I waltzed right up to the edge.  Morale is a funny thing.

This is also a view down - the white thing on the left is the roof of (I think) New 7th Station below us, and the building on the right in the distance I think was the 6th Station, lower still.
There's a shrine at the top, dedicated to the kami of the mountain, and the whole area above the 8th Station is sacred ground, as delimited by a torii gate with many coins embedded in it.  We even encountered one old woman in traditional pilgrim's garb who was on her way up as we were going down.  I speculate that hypoxia may have an entheogenic effect, much like alcohol, which contributes to the phenomenon of mountaintops as holy places.  There were many Japanese families with children (often just dad and son, though most of the sons were much younger than I), a decent number of groups of male Japanese teenagers who kept similar paces to ours and with whom we interacted repeatedly, a few American families, and a few European solo climbers.  Most impressive were the runners - we saw several Japanese men, mostly in their late thirties or older, in the sort of kit you'd expect of marathoners, just running up and then back down the mountain.  In many places the trail was only one person wide, so when we met someone headed the opposite direction from us, one party had to yield.  Often this was a welcome break, but we got a bit antsy on the way down, as large groups of climbers were ascending for the overnight.

Looking down into the crater from the summit, there was more ice and sulfurous rock than we had seen on the way up.  We made an attempt for the Kengamine Peak, which used to be a radar weather station, but abandoned it; the slope from the shrine at the summit to the top of the peak was all steep gravel which slid beneath us, and it was a trudge.  In retrospect this was the correct decision; we needed what energy we had for the descent, and we only made it to the bottom fifteen minutes before the last bus off the mountain, so if we had spent twenty minutes up to Kengamine and then fifteen back down to the shrine, we'd've missed our bus.  On the way down, the terrain which had been easiest on the way up (moon-rock) was hardest, and the terrain which had been hardest on the way up (gravel) was the easiest.

We observed very little animal life; some sweat-bees even towards the top, one small brown bird around the 8th or 9th station, some flies around the stations where human waste accumulates.  There were a number of bright butterflies down in the green parts of the slope.  Supposedly there are bears on some of the lower trails, but being Japanese I imagine that they are very polite bears.  There were a few statues of tanuki at one of the stations but we did not observe any on the mountain.

The next day we were decently sore; I felt it in my calves and hip, and I think my father did in much of his lower body but especially his quads.  My quads were a little sore the day after that.  I was pretty happy with the results of my training program of weighted barbell squats plus stationary bike cardio (obviously training at altitude would've been better, but shikata ga nai).  We came off the mountain hungry but still more thirsty; we had drank a total of four liters of water between the two of us (some of it enhanced with Pocari Sweat powder), and eaten less than half of our snacks.  Towards the bottom my headache stopped pounding, but persisted; I think this was the hypoxia component resolving itself and being replaced by a dehydration headache.  I think we might've been better off with less snacks and layers and more water, but it all worked out (and water is damn heavy).

Next post: on climbing mountains in D&D.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Eyes of the Eagle

I dug up a pair of old binoculars to bring on the Dungeness Spit hike, and have since started going to local parks and using them to watch boats.  It's generated some good, first-person qualitative data for the wilderness vision distance question.


There's another park across the lake from the park I go to.  It's about two miles of water.  With 8x magnification, on a clear day, I can count the cars in the parking lot, clearly make out the portable toilet, and can tell one person (or person with dog) from two people from five-ish people, but can't really discern anything about them other than that they're bipeds.  With the naked eye, I can often make out the glint of metal or glass from there on a sunny day but otherwise would be hard pressed to tell it apart from a field.

It is also easy to make out the contours of mountains about 40 miles away (I think, that's about where the range begins), and which parts of the mountain have snow on them, again provided clear weather.  To the naked eye, the view is still pleasing but I would be hard pressed to make any plans off of it.

With 8x magnification, I can sometimes make out the tail art on airliners coming and going from the airport about 15 miles south of me as they pass overhead, but I have been unable to observe the flight numbers.  I was able to identify an F-18 as such, and to see that an H-60 helicopter in the distance had its side doors open (I could see sky through it).

I was able to observe a pair of helium party balloons (lost from a party I presume) ascending about a mile north of my position, though I couldn't see them with naked eye so I stumbled on them accidentally while watching an eagle.  They were silhouetted against the sky or I don't think I'd've been able to see them with magnification either.

Sometimes I can read the numbers on the sails of boats; I don't actually know how close they were or how large the numerals were though.  Generally reading the names of small boats off their bows is beyond me unless they're quite close, but I have been able to read the names of two large tour boats off of their bows at maybe half a mile of distance, one in twilight.  Sometimes in the evening the air over the water shimmers like hot pavement and it gets hard to make out details of anything.  The lights from houses across the lake twinkle like stars.

The view of the moon is very good, especially because it is full right now.  I could make out some craters that were at an angle to the sun, and to see the shadows inside their rims.  I have never seen the moon like that before.  I was also able to observe some satellites, as basically dim stars moving on smooth tracks.


I really wonder how fleets coordinated their actions before optics.  I feel like making out semaphore at a mile without a spyglass would be really hard.  Did they just sail in really close order?  Did captains just have a ton of autonomy?  I was reading about the audible range of hunting horns and elk bugles a while back and I recall those being about a mile or so depending on terrain, but I would guess that auditory signaling might be hard at sea with the wind carrying it away.

ACKS' description for Eyes of the Eagle has them giving 100x magnification, which is pretty nuts.  Low-powered binoculars are 7-8x, high-powered are 10-12x.  Spotting scopes for long-range shooting are generally 24-60x, and that lets you observe groupings out to hundreds of yards.  100x is in an awkward spot between high-power spotting scopes and low-power astronomical telescopes.  With 100x magnification, I think it would be pretty easy to count individuals a mile or two away (but your field of view would also be obliterated - there's no way you could just wear 100x magnification binoculars like contact lenses in your daily life, never mind dungeoneering).

Amusingly, none of the other rulesets I checked (OSRIC, S&W, 3e, PF, 5e) listed a magnification for their Eyes of the Eagle.  3e, Pathfinder, and 5e did have a nonmagical spyglass though, with 2x magnification for 1000 gp, which is a little funny since they weren't definitely invented until 1608, well into the Gunpowder Age, and since Galileo also developed 8x and 23x telescopes by 1609.

I was surprised how much atmospheric effects mattered even over this fairly-short distance of two miles.

"The glint of metal" is probably a fine way to introduce a distant wilderness encounter with sentients.